Free school meals for all 'boost results'

School canteen Children eating school dinners consume better food, the report said

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Offering free school meals to everyone can help close the gap between rich and poor pupils, a report suggests.

A study looking at the effects of extending free meals to all in two pilot areas of England suggests primary pupils advance by two months on average as a result.

Advances were most pronounced in pupils from poorer homes.

Researchers put the attainment boost down to improvements in pupils' productivity.

The study looked at the impact of extending entitlement to free school meals in three English local authority areas over a two-year period.

'Better food'

In two areas, Durham and Newham, meals were offered universally to pupils.

In a third, Wolverhampton, entitlement was extended to cover pupils in primary and secondary schools to a greater number of but not all pupils.

There was little change in either take-up of school meals or attainment on this partial expansion pilot.

But in the universal pilot, most pupils areas took up the option of taking the free meals.

The report suggested the nutritional content of school lunches was better than packed lunches. Better food has been linked previously with better behaviour.

Children were more likely to eat hot food, including vegetables and carbohydrates. They were also more likely to drink water rather than fizzy drinks.

'Levelling effect'

Researchers then compared the school results of children on the universal pilot with similar children in other areas.

They found an average increase in attainment of about two months for those in primary school.

And the impact was more pronounced for children from less affluent families and amongst those with lower prior attainment.

The study said school staff noticed a "levelling effect" in the quality of lunches eaten by pupils from different backgrounds.

The report said the increase in attainment "must arise as a result of improvements in productivity whilst at school".

The study said the universal approach cost the equivalent of around £220 per primary school pupil over two years.

It added that the universal entitlement pilot appeared to deliver better value for money "than some educational interventions".

'Not viable'

Children's Food Trust chief executive, Judy Hargadon, said: "These findings are serious food for thought.

"Offering free school meals to every child in Newham and Durham helped to make them more likely to eat a better diet at school, do significantly better in class - with an average of two months more progress by pupils at key stages 1 and 2 - and less fussy about what they ate at home."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We are committed to ensuring that free school meals are available to those pupils who need them most, but it is not viable to continue the universal pilots in the current financial climate.

"It is right to focus schools' budgets on the government's priority of directly raising attainment for all children."

Sharon Hodgson, MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on School Food, said the evaluation showed the significant benefits from having universal access to nutritional and filling school meals.

" It provides real food for thought for a government which claims to want to boost attainment and increase social mobility, but which scrapped further pilot schemes within weeks of being elected.

"If they are serious about improving outcomes for all children, they need to seriously examine the positive impact that universal free school meals has had in Durham."

The Local Authority Caterers Association said healthy school meals not only improve concentration and attainment, but also have other wide-reaching benefits.

The research was carried out by the National Centre for Social Research, the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Bryson Purdon Social Research.

It comes after the education secretary Michael Gove ordered a review of school food, amid concerns that academies can opt out of strict nutritional guidelines introduced to raise standards in school kitchens.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    The kids can have a cooked meal at home and take sandwiches to school. it's a no-brainer- no one needs two cooked meals a day and if they want that at my expense then their benefits should be reduced, they be given everything for free while hard working people without kids struggle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    It would even cost that much to do this, if vegetables are bought from a market and the dinners cooked are the sort of things that can be cooked in vast cauldrons like stew. It's well known that healthy meals boost kids attainment. This could be funded by not paying architects to design public buildings, they could all be a cuboid and save millions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.


    "I overheard a workshy fat idiotic mum say to another that she hated summer holidays as that means her 8 kids will be in the house all day instead of being out of her hair & getting their free school meals. If she had it her way she'd hand her kids to the state & still claim benefit. This is my argument to not pay anybody to have children."

    Yup" That's one for 'The Bloke'.

  • Comment number 162.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    "...the children already have at the tax payer's expense. I am heavily taxed from my modest wage while receiving no benefits."

    You clearly view kids as a "liability", not considering that they also form part of a country's "assets"
    Your "benefits" are that you get to keep more of your income to spend on yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    I overheard a workshy fat idiotic mum say to another that she hated summer holidays as that means her 8 kids will be in the house all day instead of being out of her hair & getting their free school meals. If she had it her way she'd hand her kids to the state & still claim benefit. This is my argument to not pay anybody to have children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.


    A bit of a misnomer there, you cannot possibly be heavily taxed from a modest wage. Heavily taxed from a high wage yes, and standard tax from a modest wage yes. You would need to be earning over £35K pa to start paying at 40% and £150K pa to pay 45%, and in my book anyone earning within these thresholds are certainly not modest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    At only £110 per primary school kid per year, the impovement to health and education is a cheap price to pay. It could mean less cost to the NHS in the future for example!

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    These studies, so called, you have to remember are only job creation schemes for the educated but useless to do and get lots of our taxes for doing.

    They took loads of money from us to tell us forcing all to have the same meals has a 'levelling effect'. Coo wish I was a 'scientist'! Money for old rope. lol.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    I thought children from poor homes already qualified for free school meals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    A number of poster appear to have been born adults.


  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    @144.The Bloke

    Good try, but I was not offering an opinion I was making a statement about what 'reason' is or what a 'reasoned argument' has to be - by definition. It's why Aristotle has the edge on Plato.

    You can't just 'make it up'. If you do all that happens is people merely trade prejudices.

    Want evidence? Many comments on HYS are baseless claptrap. Read 'em.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    your last point was badly put. So if singleandnokids needs to look where they failed then that should also mean that those you think are struggling should also look where they failed. people like you are wet blankets, you have ruined this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    'Hilarious tell that to all the unemployed so called graduates.'
    It is pointless talking to people of this mentality when the only future they see is the same past they have lived.

    There are other and better ways humanity can progress other than the status quo!

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    To: 4.Scumbagmillionaire

    State education is one of the things that every tax payer pays for. If you went to a state school then previous generations of tax payers paid for it, or if you send your children to a state school now then it is this generation who pays. Just like it is us who pays for our parents pensions and it will be our children who will pay for our pensions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    It's the parents' job not the state's job to feed children

    We are only talking about feeding them at school here...
    The people of Finland disagree with your view as others have pointed out.
    Sometimes you need to challenge the status quo and ask - can an existing system be changed for the better ?
    Don't just rely on your existing preconceptions...

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    I agree with the idea of closing the gap between the poor and rich students but the state paying for everyone is not the answer.
    At my primary school the parents paid the school directly . Those students and the students entitled to free school meals went to the dinner hall together - none the wiser as to who pays and who doesn't.
    Is this not a better system?

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    The offspring of the breeders get free: medicine, dental, education to 18, LA services and a whole raft of extras. But the breeders get to pay less tax than those without any kids; and now some bright spark thinks its an idea to feed them too? If you have kids, it's down to you to look after them!

  • Comment number 147.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Having studied an MSc at a place where healthy, good quality but inexpensive food was included in the course fees, I can attest to the benefit of good eating helping educational achievement. I can see no reason why this should not also be the case for children. Better my taxes are spent on feeding kids properly at school than being spent on the replacement for Trident or aircraft carriers.


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